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Where the Stress Falls: Essays [Hardcover]

Susan Sontag

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Book Description

24 Jan 2002
Records a great American writer's urgent engagement with some of the most significant aesthetic and moral issues of the late twentieth century, and provides a brilliant and clear-eyed appraisal of what is at stake, in this new century, in the survival of that inheritance.

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Susan Sontag produces a riveting new volume of essays that reflects her polygamous interests in Where the Stress Falls. The American writer, famous for her fiction, is equally prolific in her essay writing, including such titles as Against Interpretation, Styles of Radical Will and Illness as Metaphor. These latest essays range from her take on the cultural philosopher Roland Barthes, accounts of working in Sarajevo, to the traditions of Western Gardens to the history of travel writing. As she writes of her youthful understanding of her craft, "my idea of a writer was someone who was interested in "everything"'. Perhaps most intriguingly, she revisits her 1966 book, (then her second publication), Against Interpretation and provides an autobiographical context for her essays on Simone Weil, Albert Camus, Pavese and Michel Leiris. In these early works she saw herself as a "pugnacious aesthete and a barely closeted moralist". Sontag fought to pave the way for making photograph and cinema subjects worthy of serious cultural criticism.

Although several of these essays have been written in the last couple of years, many are reprinted from magazine articles and the book forms a thought-provoking collection rather than a selection of new writing. Given Sontag's outspoken views on the recent events in America and Afghanistan, it is rather frustrating that there isn't more of her political writing in this volume and it is hard to understand why certain "interludes" were chosen. But as always with Sontag, there is much for even the faint-hearted to savour and ponder. --Julie Wheelwright


It's nearly 40 years since Sontag published Against Interpretation, her influential (and still in print) collection of critical essays. Since then she has written novels, whilst continuing to work as a fine critic. Where the Stress Falls gathers together pieces on such writers as Borges, Barthes, W G Sebald and Joseph Brodsky - as well as others on film, photography, dance, travel writing, translation, and on directing Beckett in war-torn Sarajevo. What links together these and other pieces is Sontag's continuing passion for serious and groundbreaking art. The book itself is hardly as groundbreaking as Against Interpretation. In fact her commitment to such qualities as 'nobility' in writing and filmmaking is distinctly old-fashioned - though hardly the worse for that, in these almost always interesting and sometimes beautifully written essays.

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Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars  15 reviews
21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you can't run with the big dogs, stay on the porch! 11 Nov 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
To those reviewers who find Susan Sontag a literary snob and anti-American, request a copy of her reading at Chapters Literary Bookstore in Washington, DC from C-CPAN2 (aired 11/10/2001) to get the benefit of her own words without media filtering. Her essays are gifts to writers and readers, to Americans and to the world of humankind. She simply asks all of us to THINK...what a concept!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good stuff but... 10 Dec 2005
By Steiner - Published on Amazon.com
I generally prefer Sontag's longer and more personal essays usually found in her earlier work. This collection is a compilation of essays on art gathered from some of the last years of her life; they cover a wide range of topics, from literature to Italian photography. I felt that the most interesting section was her essays on her solidarity trips to Sarejevo during the Serbs' bombardment, where she directed a production of Beckett's Waiting for Godot; it's a wonderful testament to the universality of great art. I'm afraid I can't sustain the same kind of equality of interest to the arts collectively as Sontag did, and I must admit I found her pieces on garden art and dance terribly boring. That aside, she does include some characteristically excellent essays on film, such as her elaborate review of Fassbinder's adaptation of Alfred Doblin's Berlin Alexanderplatz which immediately imparted me with an urge to see the film and read the book. She also writes a brief review of cinema's 100 year history, which is a bit simplistic as any short piece on this topic would have to be. She maintains that silent cinema was born which brought forth two directions in cinema: art and entertainment. The films during the silent era were largely adaptations of plays and were truly great art. Then the sound period came into being and film receded into "Hollywood" adaptations of great novels which largely failed, until the pioneer directors of the period such as Howard Hawks perfected the genre style mode of filmmaking. Then the French New Wave came along, led by the genius of Jean-Luc Godard and Francoise Truffaut and turned movies into a high art for 20 years. Unfortunately, when production costs escalated in the 80's Hollywood took over gain and turned the cinema into an industry once again. This narrative has elements of truth, but it really denies the significance of many American and Asian filmmakers who played an important role in the history of film, Sontag prefers to label Godard the patron saint of the cinema, a view I hold only in his relationship with the progression of French cinema as a whole, a history which of course includes Jean Renoir, Sontag's essay does not acknowledge such masters.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'Nothing new except language, the ever found...' 30 Oct 2002
By LuelCanyon - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
My favorite piece in this book is 'Answers to a Questionnaire'-- vintage Sontag-- thinking, witnessing, and finally enlightening everything she must. Despite the self-loathing revealed by a number of American reviewers below who show themselves apparently ready to detest integrity itself, the naked truth comes clear and comes clear! Clear thinking may yet be the last frontier! A worthy argument for such is surely made in the pages of this book. It is even for those who are spiteful without cause to discover themselves lurking in the heart of this book, grevious as ignorance is, & wretched as spite becomes in the end. Listen-- vitriolic political sideswiping is as American as dumplings. Sontag, characteristically and sympathetically, not only notes its irrevelance, but conjures an antidote called moral patience, so no wonder all the shouts and curses against her! Making certain their own avenues of self-discovery venture nothing wiser than a hepped up, but sunless, hyper-nationalism wretchedly disguised as patriotism, it's unfortunately not surprising the chorus of disappoval this woman engenders. Thank goodness Sontag remains preoccupied with her Art!-- a living, teaching, redemptive art burnished, by now, to an holistic glow, as every page of this book bears witness. What in the world are you talking about??! -- SUSAN SONTAG IS AMERICAN TO THE CORE! I reckon that aspect of her identity contributes as much as any other of her native gifts to the beauty and usefulness of her art. Wake up, people!
12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vintage Sontag 23 Dec 2001
By Marie Sherer - Published on Amazon.com
Bravo Susan Sontag- great book, greater writer - her stature is directly proportional to the lengths her critics have gone to character-assassinate her. I now will buy the book! No, I'll buy two.
16 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Essays 18 Oct 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Sontag is a great writer and if you love non-fiction writing (a la Joan Didion) then you will love this book. The essays cover a wide range of topics, including a discussion of some fellow writers. I highly recommend it!
One other thing: some of the posts here have absolutely nothing to do with Sontag's book. I thought this space was for book reviews, not political diatribes and ad hominem attacks.
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